A completely blackened theater, late at night, can be one of the scariest of places to be alone. Having been in many myself, I can attest to their eeriness and the powers of the imagination to create all sorts of ghostly visions and unearthly sounds.
A ghost light is a single-bulbed light pole left on in the middle of the stage so those who are the last in the theater do not fall into the orchestra pit or trip over an errant prop. Some believe that the ghost light is left on for the theater’s apparitions, who can then perform in their shadowy glow.
The Duluth Playhouse, for its first performance since the pandemic began, premiered a virtual production of “Tales from the Ghost Light,” a collection of spooky tales filmed at the NorShor Theatre, said to have its own ghostly inhabitants.
The eclectic mix of stories was adapted and performed by single actors who could rehearse and perform without having to share the stage with other performers. Some of the stories were original; a few were adapted from the likes of Edgar Allan Poe and Washington Irving.
While the concept was a good one, the show was at times uneven with some of the stories lacking in enough tension, fear or horror.
“The Phantom of the NorShor,” Rylee Kuberra’s contribution, used a black-and-white, silent “movie” style with the spoken dialogue in title cards. Kuberra looked every inch a silent movie star and made some appropriately campy choices in her expressions. While the piece ended a bit anti-climactically, it was still a solid effort.
Michael Kraklio’s narrative frame of a short story, "The Legend of Ornias Goodnight" by horror writer Adrian Ludens, hit just the right level of the Southern Gothic and was one of the evening’s highlights. It would have been better, however, to have him just tell the story, rather than using the shift to adding illustrations. Kraklio could easily do a one-man show of scary tales and hold an audience enthralled.
“The Skeptic’s Epilogue,” written and performed by Justin Peck, was the spookiest story of the evening. A Playhouse staff member, cleaning up and shutting down the NorShor for the night, keeps insisting that he has never seen any apparitions or been frightened by anything at the theater, well, before this evening …
Peck did great work with the show’s videography and editing. The cast also featured Eric Elefson, Diona Johnson, Luke Moravec, John Pokrzywinski, Sara Marie Sorenson and Matias Valero. New Playhouse artistic director Phillip Fazio was at the helm, not how he had probably planned to make his splashy Norshor debut, no doubt.
Many theaters around the world have left ghost lights on day and night since they closed with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Audiences and performers everywhere look forward to the day when live performances return and marquees and stage lights shine brightly again.
If you “go”
What: The Duluth Playhouse’s “Tales from the Ghost Light” filmed at the NorShor Theatre
Where: Virtual production on the playhouse's Facebook and YouTube channels.
When: Streaming now until Nov. 1 at 11:59 p.m.
Tickets: Free. Online option to donate to the theater.
Sheryl Jensen is a former teacher, magazine editor and director. She reviews theater for the News Tribune.